Body shop estimator John Lockwood raised some Texas-sized hackles among hunters and state game officials when word got out about his plan to let computer-armed hunters take online shots at prey on a ranch outside San Antonio. “What’s next ... taking out your boss remotely?” read one missive posted on a Dallas Morning News message board. Bagging game online, however, is a tad thornier than point, click, dine or mount.
Live-shot.com debuted online target practice last month with six targets set up at a private ranch. A .22 Ruger mounted on a 3 1/2 -foot base was fitted with four cameras -- one that allows a virtual hunter to peer through the scope, another to record the action and two others that pan the area. If the site upgrades (pending technological hurtles) to shooting live game, such as Barbary sheep from Northern Africa, blackbuck antelope from India, Corsican sheep and wild hogs, a different caliber gun would be mounted the same way at a site about 140 miles northwest of San Antonio. Online hunters would shoot at animals as they moved between their lairs and a feeding area (baiting game is legal in Texas). “Feeding corn to animals like this is like feeding candy to children -- they’ll keep coming back,” says Damon Thorpe of the Texas Deer Assn., which opposes online hunting.
An on-site guide babysits the gun, which remains unloaded until an online session begins. Virtual hunters pay $14.95 a month for Live-Shot membership and then an additional $5.95 to schedule 20 minutes and 10 shots.
Once the game is sighted, a click of the mouse fires the rifle. A metal rod in the trigger acts as a finger. The guide oversees the commands and can override a virtual hunter’s click if he doesn’t have a clear shot at the animal. Problem: There’s a one-second delay for the fastest computer connections and a four- to six-second delay with dial-ups, says Kyle Capps, who runs another Texas-based website where a “virtual bullet” shoots an animal’s picture. With Live-Shot, Capps says, “you could easily look at the pig and see a very clean shot and click the gun. It moves 2 feet away and you shoot it in the hindquarters.” Lockwood, however, explains that the guide could finish off any wounded animals with his own firearm.
When the session is over -- 10 shots or 20 minutes, whichever comes first -- the guide unloads the gun, hauls the dead animal into a cooler and trucks it to a meat processor (sausage or steaks) or a taxidermist (shoulder mount). From there, it’s only a FedEx trip away from the hunter’s doorstep. Texas officials oppose virtual hunting because they can’t track whether online shooters own a Texas hunting license. Next year, the state’s Parks and Wildlife Commission will consider requiring hunters to be physically present when bagging game. But the commission only has power over native species such as white tail or mule deer -- not Live-Shot’s exotic fare.
-- Ashley Powers